3 min

Davie’s demise

Let's deal with the real issue

Credit: Xtra West files

I have to tell you the truth. I don’t actually like stepping over street people on my way home from work. I think they’re an eyesore.

I don’t like admitting it, though. I mean, they have as much right to be on the street as I do and, besides, I feel like an unsympathetic middle-class whiner each time I secretly wish they’d go away.

I’d rather be the type of person who supports all my neighbours, no matter where they live or what they need. And most of the time I am. Sometimes, I even get to know my street neighbours by name. And I value that.

But in that rare moment of total honesty, I really wish they’d all just go away before my beautiful gay Village deteriorates into another Main and Hastings.

Me and Lorne Mayencourt and Dave Jones.

Seems I have something in common with the law enforcement types, after all. You know, the people who fantasize about rounding up panhandlers and throwing them in jail, so they can rid the street of its unpleasant sights-and score a few quick political points in the process.

About a year ago, word leaked out of the BC legislature that Mayencourt, the gay MLA for Vancouver-Burrard, was working on a private member’s bill to give police more power to fine and arrest street people for panhandling. And the model he was using? Ontario’s highly contested Safe Streets Act-the one that sparked an uproar in 1999 when it set out stiff fines for panhandling. First offence: $500. Second offence: $1,000. Can’t pay the fine? We’ll just throw you in jail.

When I called Mayencourt to ask him about it last March, he quickly back-pedalled. Nothing is finalized, he repeatedly told me, assuring me that he was still consulting community members and gauging their needs.

Now it’s a year later and a new coalition has formed in the downtown core, led by the Downtown Business Improvement Association and its new director of crime prevention, Dave Jones. (Yes, the former top cop in the West End who retired from the force last December.) The new coalition’s stated raison d’etre: to convince the provincial government to enact a Safe Streets Act to deal with “aggressive” beggars and the increasing “disorder” on Vancouver’s streets. Sound familiar?

Now, you’d think I’d be happy about this initiative, right? Wasn’t I just whining about the street people on my route home and Davie’s rapid decline?

Well, yes. But fining people who obviously have no money and locking them up because they can’t pay is hardly the answer I had in mind.

Besides, wouldn’t the government have to spend money on more jail facilities just to make this plan work?

If they’re going to spend more money anyway, why don’t they put it into shelters and job training and counselling services and addiction centres? Why don’t they spend the money on supporting our street people and genuinely addressing their needs, rather than penalizing them for their lack of resources?

Even Jones, an integral member of the new coalition, has expressed discomfort with the prospect of fining people simply for being unsightly. In an interview last fall, he told me he has “never been interested in fines from people who are poor or down on their luck.”

But “these business people need some relief,” he said-and right now there are no consequences for “bothering” people on the street.

I guess he’s not satisfied with all the provisions of the Criminal Code that already make it illegal for people to harass others on the street, to threaten them, to steal from them, to assault them.

I guess Jones, Mayencourt and all their supporters just want the problem to go away and stop “bothering” them. And they don’t care where it goes, or whether or not the street people get the support and resources they need-just as long as they’re no longer visible.

I know I’ll sleep more soundly at night knowing I won’t have to step over any more street people on my route home. If this new law passes, they could all be in jail before you know it. Problem solved.

Too bad that isn’t the kind of Village I want to live in.